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Tower could bring high-speed Internet to Red Cliff

RED CLIFF — The days of Eagle County’s oldest town being a no cell phone zone could soon be over.

The small town of Red Cliff in southern Eagle County has long been known for its disconnect to the bustling communities nearby, with an absence of cell phones, high-speed Internet and even street lights being its signature.

For safety, business and general vibrancy in the community, though, those days are going to have to come to an end, said Mayor Scott Burgess, and hopefully before the winter hits.

“What would really help our town, is if we could have location-neutral businesses — accountants and lawyers and what not — who could work from home and take care of the kids at home instead of driving up over Battle Mountain,” Burgess said. “I can’t balance my checkbook on Quickbooks as it is, because the bank doesn’t like the lag of going to outer space and back.”

On Tuesday, Red Cliff officials signed the paperwork on about $150,000 in grants from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and Eagle County to bring a communications tower to town, and the Internet service that comes with it. Once reliable high-speed Internet arrives, cell phone service won’t be far behind as providers can supply boosters or choose to place hardware on the tower to provide coverage.

CELL PHONES, TOO

There is currently some Internet service in Red Cliff. It arrives via satellite Internet providers such as HughesNet, and averages around 1.5 megabytes per second on the download and half a megabyte per second on the upload. The new microwave receiver tower will bring broadband-speed Internet to town, transmitted from another tower at nearby Ski Cooper via High Country Internet, at speeds of 25 megabytes per second on the download and 5 megabytes per second on the upload.

“It will be just the same speed that a lot of nearby places have,” Burgess said. “About 15 times faster than it is now.”

The plan is to have the tower — along with the land it would sit on, the old Caribou Mine site — purchased for a town-owned asset by Red Cliff, who will then rent space to whomever wants share tower space.

“We’re hoping Verizon, AT&T and what have you will want to put hardware on the tower for cell phone service,” Burgess said. “We’re hoping for an 800 radio service up there, as well, for public safety, because currently the fire department gets in here with their 800 radios and they don’t work so well.”

The project will cost about $200,000. About $75,000 of that will go toward powering the tower, with Xcel Energy running power lines up the hill.

Half of the mine site is currently owned by the Battle Mountain Development Co., which is happy to help.

“We know they need better connectivity up there, and we’re ready to do what we can to assist with this project,” Tim McGuire with Battle Mountain Development said Friday.

Burgess said the tower will be about 900 feet up the hill from High Road on the southern side of town.

“We could also put a little, switchback-y trail system up there on that land,” he said.

PLAN FOR BROADBAND

Red Cliff currently has $32,000 in a fund that can be used for improving communication systems in town. About $20,000 will come out of that fund, and the town will also throw in about $15,000 worth of inkind donation including a generator and good, old-fashioned manpower. Eagle County’s grant will total about $56,000, and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant will be about $100,000.

“Eagle County is happy to have provided grant funding to Red Cliff to aid in their installation of the new tower,” Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said Friday. “That and the funding from the Department of Local Affairs will help provide reliable communication for the folks in Red Cliff — a crucial element not only for public safety, but for economic development as well.”

The Northwest Council of Governments and their broadband coordinator, Nate Walowitz, were instrumental in helping Red Cliff obtain the Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant, Burgess said. The effort was part of the Northwest Council of Governments’ Regional Strategic Plan for Broadband, a project funded by a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs’ Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund.

Walowitz said he looked at trying to get fiber optic cable into town, but wireless Internet via High Country Internet and their Ski Cooper tower turned out to be the only solution.

“We looked at all other terrestrial possibilities,” he said. “We realized the only direct line of sight was to the south.”

With the money now in place, construction is expected to begin soon, with Walowitz doubling as a project manager in the effort.

“Not a bad place to have to do a little field work,” he said. “It’s just beautiful there.”

The goal, Walowitz said, is to have the tower up before the winter.

“We want it up and running before the snow flies,” he said.

For more information on the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Regional Strategic Plan for Broadband, visit http://nwccog.org/programs/broadband/.


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